update: I’m afraid the CEO will suck me back in when I try to resign

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was afraid her CEO would suck her back in when she tried to resign? Here’s the update.

I ended up getting a job offer from the competitor, but turned it down. They seemed just as hectic and missing work/life balance like the current job, so I figured I’d stay with the dysfunction I knew rather than throwing myself into new dysfunction. The competitor also wasn’t going to offer a salary to make the new dysfunction worth it.

At the end of August I was contacted by a former colleague, “Dave,” and was asked if I was interested in a position at the new company he was working at. I went for an interview, and then was given an offer that would involve a much shorter commute, and 33% salary increase. It seemed like a good match for my skills and good group of people. The new company is in the same industry but not the exact angle as the old one (think teapot painting vs teapot molding) so I’ll get to learn something new. I got an official offer letter on Tuesday, and decided to accept and tell the current job I was resigning at the end of the week.

I was working out of a field office, and on Wednesday morning I was asked to come into the main office that afternoon to meet with my manager about an upcoming project. Since I wasn’t intending to stay for the upcoming project, and I would be face to face with my manager, Wednesday quickly turned into the day to tell the news! I reread your advice, drove the hour to the main office, prepped in the car, and headed in to my meeting. I decided before going in that I didn’t want to be talked into staying. I told my manager “Matt” that I was resigning, and he was surprised. Matt asked me where I was going, and what they were offering me – I told him, figuring I knew I wasn’t staying but maybe it would help them with some market research and push them to better compensate my soon-to-be-former coworkers. He asked why I was leaving, and told him that I appreciated working with him and I learned a lot, but the 1 hr+ commute was getting to me and it was time for me to expand my horizons. Matt kept asking variations on “well what if we made you a higher counter-offer?”, but tellingly never addressed the commute, work/life balance, etc. I kept answering with that I had already made a decision that was best for me, and I’d accepted the new offer but will work hard to transition in the next two weeks. My manager Matt called the CEO “Mike” into his office, and we had the same conversation again. Mike the CEO did eventually end it by telling Matt to stop with the what-ifs, and wished me luck going forward. And that I thought was that.

The first week of my notice period, my manager Matt asked me to continue to work on the upcoming project without someone to transition it to, rather than wrapping up a project that I was working on that was ending. That didn’t make sense to me, and I discussed that with Matt, but hey, I’m not the boss.

Then at the end of the week, the CEO Mike asked to take me out to breakfast and billed it as an exit interview. I couldn’t really say no. We got to the restaurant, and Mike starts launching in about why I should stay! He told me realized they made a mistake, they were going to change this, that, and the other thing, he had a whole 5 year plan to make everything better, and on and on. Mike said that he had asked me to keep working on the upcoming project during my notice period because he was so sure he could convince me to stay! Based on how previous promises were not fulfilled, I didn’t really believe what he was promising now. He told me “this family is like a company and I’m just trying to look out for what’s best for you,” which we all know is a great sign. He was also trying to convince me that it really was no big deal if I turned down the new offer after already accepting and setting a start date. I had no intention of changing my mind and staying, but I listened politely and told Mike I’d think over what he said. When I got back to the office, I discussed what happened at breakfast with a coworker who had worked with Mike for a long time. She suggested that I wait until Monday to tell Mike that no, I’m really leaving, so that it looked like I “thought hard about it over the weekend” so to save face a bit for him.

So Monday morning, I went and talked to Mike, and told him again that I was really leaving. He seemed to accept it this time, and again wished me luck. And this time I really thought that was that …. BUT!

Monday afternoon we held a retirement party at a restaurant for a long time coworker. Dave, the former coworker who recruited me to the new company, was invited. I noticed Dave walk in to the party, and walk out not that long after, but I didn’t really think about it. Dave called me later that afternoon to tell me what happened. Dave walked into the party, and Mike made a beeline to him. Without any small talk, and in front of a bunch of people, Mike berated Dave about “how could you steal [me, the letter writer] away!” and how horrible he was. Dave got himself out of that conversation, and decided he wasn’t going to stay at the party to be talked to like that and left (and I don’t blame him!). Dave had still been doing a lot of favors for Mike and others at the old job, and now is less willing. So turns out I’m not really the one who has to worry about burning bridges….

I’ve been at the new company for about a month now. I’m still working on learning the ropes, but I’ve gotten good feedback so far and think I’ll get the hang of it! It was a lot of drama, but I made the right choice.

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. Antilles*

    he had a whole 5 year plan to make everything better
    Just give me another oh, 20% of your entire working career, and things will get much better afterwards, no big deal.

    1. sometimeswhy*

      That five year plan needed to have started five years ago for it to have even the remotest chance of making a difference. Now is too late. Now plus five years is WAY too late.

      1. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*

        Would that 5 year plan have included moving the entire company closer to where the LW lived so that they wouldn’t have a 2+ hours’ commute every day?

        Reading this update, I was reminded of Alison’s occasional observation that “Your boss is a loon/jerk and is not going to change!” Because seriously – who thinks it acceptable to light into someone at a party? And accusing that person of STEALING a current employee?! The LW is not the CEO’s property, for crying out loud! LW, you didn’t dodge a bullet by getting out of there – you dodged a cannonball!

        1. OP here!*

          Well, I’ve been working out on a job site, so theoretically they could have offered to send me to a different job site closer to my house. Instead, the next project they wanted to send me to was even further away – a 2 hour drive one way.

          When I brought that up as a major factor that I decided this job wasn’t right anymore (it seemed like a better reason to say to them rather than you all drive me up a wall), they just kept offering more money (although no specific amount). That wasn’t going to cut it!

          1. Momma Bear*

            So they *could* improve your commute since it was project based but they opted not to, and then blamed Dave for stealing their employee. Cute. I’m glad you got out of there, OP.

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          This exactly.
          All the other stuff was pretty bad and made it super clear that leaving was a great call. This took it to the next level.

    2. El l*

      Yeah we’ve seen that line many times on this blog. Why would I prefer “better in 5 years” to “better right now”?

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        See “the Sheelzebub principle,” the notion put forth by a commenter of that name on Captain Awkward’s blog: “If you knew things would be the same a year from now, would you stay? What about five years from now?” It’s one of my favorite principles. I realized I used it (before it was even a thing!) when I broke up with my ex and now it’s a guiding principle of my life.

    3. Anon Supervisor*

      I would have asked him how many years he’s trotted out that 5 year plan for other staff who were wanting to leave.

    4. irene adler*

      I concur with sometimeswhy, El 1 and Anon Supervisor. Where was this plan years ago??

      Mike must think he’s a super good salesman to think OP would buy the “I have plans to change things” line. Talk is cheap.

        1. OP here!*

          I found out it worked in the past because the person who had been charmed back (“Charlie”) had worked with Mike for 20+ years, was transferred to a job site closer to his house and with less headaches than the project he had been on, was offered a higher salary, and he was planning to retire in the next 3 years anyway.

          Charlie was actually my partner on the project I was working on before I left. I talked with Charlie in confidence before I made the decision to leave. He said that if he were in my shoes, with a lot of career to go, he wouldn’t still be working for old company. I was wavering and unsure if I wanted to leave the situation I was used to for something new, but that really clinched it. (And I should have left long before! Oh well)

  2. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I’m so glad you got out and dodged a bullet rather than burning a bridge.
    But as long as I live, I will not understand why managers and companies do this to people; why treat people poorly and then get upset when they leave?

    1. Sherm*

      And if those same people are fired or laid off instead, they are expected to leave without comment, no pleading, no negotiation.

  3. Season of Joy (TM)*

    Good for you, LW!! Your fears were well founded and you should be proud of how you handled yourself.

  4. Falling Diphthong*

    This family is like a company.

    Destructobot is Vice President in Charge of Maintaining Eye Contact While Slowly Pushing Nouns Off Surfaces.

        1. Jessica*

          Exactly what I was thinking! I felt such relief at the end of this update when I realized the LW had definitely escaped.

      1. OP here!*

        Definitely was a typo, but you’re absolutely right that it was a telling one! Also, “surprisingly” Mike’s actual family life is a mess.

    1. Melanie Cavill*

      The annual performance reviews decide who remains in Great-Grandmama’s will and who is disinvited from Christmas.

      1. Season of Joy (TM)*

        Okay, might need to steal this idea for my family of origin. A lot of “not meeting expectations” to be handed out.

    2. I am Emily's failing memory*

      This family is like a company, and the cats and children aren’t pulling their weight.

      1. Juicebox+Hero*

        My one cat is. In my home, she’s the one responsible for maintaining eye contact while slowly pushing nouns off surfaces.

  5. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    My analysis when I see these kinds of desperate counteroffer efforts:

    Either they were lying to you then, or they are lying to you now.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Ha, those aren’t mutually exclusive.

      Before: “Oh, we can’t make those changes you want because…reasons.”

      At counter-offer: “Oh, no, we didn’t know it was that bad, we’ll totally change!”

      After: “Oh, yeah, we are totally working on those changes! We just need more time because…reasons.”

  6. Curmudgeon*

    He told me “this family is like a company and I’m just trying to look out for what’s best for you,”

    Holy guacamole, Batman. Can you say red flag?? What a creepy thing to say to anyone, let alone an employee who is fixing to leave!

    1. Heidi*

      I actually shuddered in horror when I got to that part. I bet CEO Mike thinks it was a super-clever twist on the old saying, though.

    2. OP here!*

      Speaking of red flags, a detail that I left out because my story was getting long is Mike also told me several times that he was trying to look out for me like a father. Which is absolutely unacceptable for several reasons: One being that I am a full grown-up woman and that’s condescending as hell. Two being my actual dad passed away just about a year ago, which Mike knew perfectly well! I’m not looking for a replacement!

      1. Kora*

        Hoo, boy, yikes on top of yikes. I’m glad you got out of there.

        Also I’m really sorry about your dad, this must be a hard time of year.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Alison, are you willing/able to change this in the story? Might reduce the number of people commenting on the mistaken wording.

      2. Lacey*


        I mean. We already knew you made the absolute right choice getting out of there, but that’s extra.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Holy Cthulhu that’s really disturbing! Another adult deciding that they have a say in your life is frightening. Bad enough when it’s a boyfriend (he was abusive) but a boss?!

  7. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — I went back and looked at your original letter. You’d been with Mike & Co. for 10+ years. If overwork has been the culture of the firm for that long, there’s no way he’s going to able to change it in 5 years, even if he’s serious about making the effort. From the way you describe him, I rather think the culture of the company is a reflection of Mike’s personality and that will definitely NOT change.

    It sounds like you’ve landed in a much better place. Good luck to you in the new year!

  8. Oh my*

    You were right to be concerned and to move on! Seems like if they could physically lock you down they would. Shudder.

  9. Michelle Smith*

    I breathed a sigh of relief at that last line. I’m so glad you were proactive in getting advice in how to navigate this and I’m even happier that you got out!! Congratulations!!

  10. Massive Dynamic*

    “Matt kept asking variations on “well what if we made you a higher counter-offer?”, but tellingly never addressed the commute, work/life balance, etc. ”

    I love that you knew to listen for what wasn’t being said.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      It’s one of the hardest skills to learn. But a vital one.

      And also, money won’t fix everything – and it’s hard to spend money if you have no time to do anything.

    2. Avril Ludgateaux*

      This! And the whole “five year plan” part. If I were leaving my job, and my boss came up to me with a promise of a “five year plan” – even if it had well-defined steps, benchmarks, and deliverables and they are actually working toward it – I would simply ask what good that does for me now, right now, when I have an immediate plan that already solves my problems?

  11. duinath*

    oof. what a rollercoaster! every time i thought for sure they’d gotten the point they escalated. congratulations on the new job, and way to go standing strong in the face of way too much pressure.

  12. Ashloo*

    Did they even make a counter offer with, y’know, actual dollars instead of promises? That’s gumption.

  13. Danish*

    Getting to the second “And that I thought was that.” was such an experience. Felt a real sense of AGAIN??? MORE??? my sympathies LW that you had to sit through what were probably some deeply tedious conversations, but congrats on getting gone!

  14. Clefairy*

    What a great example of why it’s important to make up your mind ahead of time how you’ll respond if something like this happens! It makes it so much easier to be strong and ignore frilly promises. Alison’s advise was dead on and I’m so glad OP chose to listen to it.

  15. Coco*

    I’m so glad you that were able to get out of that terrible place. But I think it was a misstep telling management that you were going to work for Dave. Knowing how terrible they are, I think you it would be easy to predicted how they would react. It seems like this put him in a tough spot. Poor Dave didn’t deserve to be interrogated and he couldn’t even enjoy his own retirement party! But sounds like the two of you are much better off.

    1. I am Emily's failing memory*

      I think the retirement party was for a coworker at LW’s company, who Dave had worked with before he left, so Dave came to the celebration even though he doesn’t still work there. It’s easily possible LW might not have anticipated that Dave would have been in the same room as Mike just days later, if she didn’t know who outside the company had been invited.

  16. Chelsea*

    Wow girl, you are clearly a top performer that’s barely keeping this company together. Be proud of yourself and be happy you’re somewhere better!!

  17. MassMatt*

    Wow, boss Matt really needs to get a grip. I mean, we’ve seen bosses turn nasty and vindictive, which is far worse, but this level of investment in convincing someone to stay is pretty nutty. People change jobs, It’s a basic part of work and life.

  18. ferrina*

    LW, I’m really impressed that you didn’t take the initial offer to work at the other dysfunctional company. I think that was really smart of you. So happy you got the new job at the functional company- congrats!!

  19. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Most counter-offers only consist of money. They may also consist of a change in responsibilities.

    They will almost NEVER force a culture change. It *might* involve some type of amelioration if the resignee was recently affected by a management action that’s “fixable”. Even a move to another department is possible.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      And I’d also be skeptical about the change in responsibilities if offered. Mostly if it’s about having fewer responsibilities. If it takes quitting to get these changes, it’s a bad sign.

  20. perstreperous*

    As a former employee of a company which treated resignations as accidental and “we can always talk them into returning”, I feel all this.

    I was always looked on with horror for remarks like “so… they mistakenly wrote the resignation letter?” and “you understand that resignation means they no longer want to work for you?”

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      OMG, I love you for saying these things out loud.

      It’s basically the Principal Skinner meme. Am I out of touch? No, it’s the quitting employees who are wrong.

      1. perstreperous*

        I said to them “when I am going to leave, you’ll get one month’s notice” – and they did. They knew they were beaten, and there was no attempt at making promises “if [I] return” which would not be kept and similar tricks.

        The whole affair was bizarre, treating employees like children who were not competent to make career decisions.

  21. Richard Hershberger*

    Five year plan: Very Chinese Communist Party. I laughed. Under other circumstances I would suspect satire, but simple cluelessness is more likely here.

    1. FrivYeti*

      Five-year plans are actually very common for businesses, because they let you create an endpoint, decide on a series of milestones, and have a process in case some of the people involved leave so that you don’t end up with a snarl and having to endlessly pivot whenever someone new comes on board.

      But one of the key things about a five-year plan is that *one person can’t do it*. It has to be a discussion with your whole management team, with clear milestones that everyone is working towards. Just saying you’ve got one in a one-on-one is nothing.

  22. Madame Arcati*

    Good grief Mike sounds like hard work.
    Well done OP for sticking to your guns in a calm and polite manner!

  23. Avril Ludgateaux*

    I read all the way to the end and was so tense it would wrap up with Dave rescinding the offer because of Mike’s misbehavior. Very happy it did NOT end that way.

    1. OP here!*

      Dave left the old company before I did for similar reasons, so he already knew these people were a pain! I’m not actually working for Dave, just at the same new company, but he’s been firmly in my court which I appreciate.

  24. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Congrats for kicking yourself free of this nonsense, OP! You were very wise to recognize the tactics that Mike was going to use to try to convince you to stay and to develop an approach to counteract it.

  25. MCMonkeyBean*

    Wow, quite a story! For a brief second I was worried this was about to take a turn into “Mike convinced Dave to rescind his offer.” Thanks so much for sharing your update and I hope things stay good in your new job!

  26. kat*

    I have to say, I was shocked that you told him where you were going. Our last 2 CIOs were/are known for calling the hiring CIO and either: badmouthing the applicant or demanding that they not be hired.

    So whenever anyone resigns from our division- it is because ‘They are just going to take some time to themselves. Focus on their family.” Usually about 4-6 wks later the real story comes out.

  27. goddessoftransitory*

    “this family is like a company”

    I mean, I assume it was the opposite, but if Mike really said THAT???

    All the yikes. All the bikes AND trikes. Absolutely no likes. That is someone who is seriously turned around on work/life balance (which explains the dynamic at his company, I think!)

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